Tuesday, March 29, 2011


NSW Labor is a dumped lover.  

Like most dumped lovers, she knew it was coming.  Her lover's eye had drifted to another, and no longer lingered, smiling, over steaming cups of hot chocolate old cold winter nights.

She clung, she sobbed, she begged for redemption, but it was not to happen.

All break-ups are messy, and this one is no exception.

Like any dumpee, the break-up is followed immediately by mournful introspection.  "Was it me?  Did I talk too much?  Was I not attentive enough? Were my factions a turn-off?"

Long, interminable conversations with those closest to you.  Before long even the op-ed editors are saying "Enough!  It ended!  Deal with it!"

After that comes the rebound.  Or at least, the attempted rebound.  Someone calls her up, promises her a night out, alcohol, attractive members of the opposite sex to erase the feelings she can't shake.

So what do she do?  She gets dressed up, maybe takes some risks, maybe puts on that dress that really isn't appropriate for wearing in public.

John Robertson is that dress.  Deep down, she knows it's a bad idea, but screw it, she's sad and she's angry and tomorrow will look after itself.  Right now, she wants to feel GOOD!  And what better way to feel better than to choose a divisive headkicker to lead the way.  Sure, it might do more harm than good, but we gotta do something right?

Of course rebounds never work.  She ends up feeling even worse, and is even more convinced that politics is a mug's game, and the voters are stupid and not worth bothering about.

This is the lowest point.  The all too common consequence is a period of solitude.  Perhaps some really awful poetry, or an overseas trip.  Or a sustained run of of polls so bad that lazy journos will write articles questioning whether it will be more or less than 52 years before you are back in power.

But, at that lowest point, she has an epiphany.  She's been going about it wrong.  She ditches that nasty dress.  She realises what it was that she was doing wrong.  No one likes a mourner talks incessantly about her last lover.  That old flame is gone now but there are plenty votes in the sea.

She needs to be true to herself.  Put herself back out there again.  Show the world that she has been hurt, but she is back.  Wiser, more experienced, more wiley in the ways of love.

She gets a new haircut, or chooses an electable leader (Tebbutt, perhaps?)

Suddenly, the voters are paying attention to her again.  It's better than before - she is happier, healthier, and she can barely remember the old factions.

Sometimes, being dumped is a good thing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Wow. What a night.

There are far, far too many things to talk about from last night, so I'm not going to pretend to do any of them justice. Let's just list the interesting stuff and then watch how things pan out over the weeks and months to come.

- The Greens. It looks like no extra seats in the Upper house. The Coalition will not need their votes to pass anything (given that they will probably have enough if Coalition, Shooters and CDP vote together). Looks like Labor will hold Balmain and Marrickville. Not a good result.

- The Coalition performance in safe Liberal seats. Lets look at the north of the harbour in Sydney. In Ku-Ring-Gai, 72% first preference. In Davidson, 74%. In Pittwater, 72% I don't care who the "other side" is - more than 70% first preference is an amazing number.

- The Labor performance in safe Labor seats. I haven't been through and counted myself, but I understand that there was only ONE seat where Labor won without needing to go to preferences (Liverpool). I mean, seriously. ONE. By contrast, the Coalition will have over 40 in the same category.

- Some of the swings. The biggest was Bathurst at 36%. ALP primary there down from 54% to 21%. That's 60% of the people who voted for you last time voting for someone else.

- NOT ONE seat swung to Labor. Not even one. Not even Penrith, won last year in a by-election, held while Labor was at its lowest (or so we thought), after the sitting member had to resign after ICAC got stuck in, with a swing then of 26%. Just incredible.

- The only good numbers for Labor - hanging on to Marrickville, and presently favoured to hang on at Balmain. In Balmain, Greens, ALP and Coalition each polled over 30%, so still nip-and tuck. The winner may just be decided by which of the three finishes third and then distributed preferences.

- Keneally resigned. It was always difficult to predict what would occur post election for the Labor leadership. Pre-election she refused to confirm her intentions, but it was difficult to see how she could possibly be the right choice for next time round. I think she showed some good sense in resigning - she must have known when she took the job that her position was always going to be an "interim" one.

- Robertson got up. As I type, the 2PP in Blacktown is 54/46, so he got up pretty easily in the end. Who knows whether his push-polling made a difference, but the overwhelming reaction on Twitter appeared to be along the lines that he is worst possible choice. Having said that, the next leader will never be Premier - the Coalition will have at least 8 years. Maybe Labor will look at the effect Abbott has had Federally and want someone to cause some chaos for a few years before they put someone realistic up there for 2019. We're going to see a lot more of that Keating letter.

- 2019 must seem a long way away if you're a Labor loyalist.

- And finally, I tipped 21 seats in @sspencer_63's sweep. Current ABC projection is 22. I can feel it in my waters, I'm going to win this one…

That is all. Now we wait to see what kind of shadow cabinet Labor can cobble together from what is left. Keneally said she would be on the backbench, but if she is she will be pretty lonely back there...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Keeping Fears in Cheque

The Labor line that has been getting the most running of late is "Don't give Barry a blank cheque".

It's a multi-faceted slogan, and I think it is a very effective one. Like all the best slogans, it seems like it will be effective with every category of voters who Labor are still courting.

Best of all, it hits those voters right where they need to be hit.

I'm not going to try and predict the effect on dead-certain Labor or Liberal voters, because they are not going to change their vote at this stage.

First of all, disaffected Labor voters - people who have always voted Labor but now think "It's Time". To these voters, the slogan says "The Coalition are going to win - if they win both houses, they will destroy the state." For someone who is perhaps not comfortable with voting Coalition in the first place, this is a powerful fear, and one likely to bring some people back across.

The true swinging voter, who has no affiliations? Judging by the polls, just about every single one of these voters is already in the Coalition column. This slogan suddenly gives them something tangible to fear from the Coalition. When combined with the "What isn't he telling us?" line, it is capable of provoking some significant fear for these voters.

It's almost a devil you know argument - "We don't really know what this guy stands for, and you want to give him BOTH houses?"

The swinging voter probably isn't voting Coalition because he/she doesn't like Labor policies. Just because the swinging voter is sick of Labor being in power doesn't mean that it wouldn't be nice to have them providing some balance to the Coalition.

How about people who usually vote Liberal? There is nothing positive that Labor can say to these people that will have any effect as they hate Labor already. This slogan, however, might give this group of voters a moment's pause about their vote.

On one hand, it may give the voter a chance to think about voting for a different party. Not the Greens, presumably, but maybe a minor party - given that this slogan is all about the Upper house, it may push the Liberals a little further down the preference list, at least among those voters who actually take the option to preference their Upper House Ballot.

I haven't seen anyone mention Howard's time in control of both houses, but I would have that many people would go straight to that. And, before you know it, we're finessing some WorkChoices memories.

Even more so though, the slogan is saying to those Coalition voters "The Coalition has this one wrapped up. Why not just stay home and tidy up the garage rather than go out and stand in that queue. A $55 fine? Money well spent."

For me, the above paragraph is the real genius of the slogan. Everyone wants to back a winner, so for Labor to explicitly concede defeat would seriously damage their vote.

This slogan will bolster and encourage Labor voters ("Even though we're going to get creamed, your vote could not be more important"), quietly encourage apathy in Coalition voters ("We're going to lose, so why should you bother with voting?") and gives swinging voters a very tangible fear from the Coalition ("Just imagine what they'll do!").

Of course, the real question is whether it's going to make any difference. You can have the best slogan in the world, but if no one is listening anyway then it's not going to make a bit of difference.

PS This will be my last post pre-election. Get out there, exercise your democratic right, then tune into Anthony Green on the ABC and watch the carnage. Hopefully there'll be enough time for dinner and some red with friends before they resume normal programming.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Leaders

In the dying hours of the 2010 Federal Election, Tony Abbott went on a campaign rampage. 36 hours without sleep. He did radio, he made appearances, and he even did late night talkback to fill those pesky hours between 2am and 4am.

Opinion was split as to what exactly it was he was trying to achieve - was it the image of the infatigable leader, or did he really think he needed every one of those hours to be productive if he thought he was going to win?

Of course, only he knows the answer. Nonetheless, a lot can be learnt about a leader, a party or a campaign by what the leader spends the final hours on.

US presidential campaigns are famous for leaders chasing the sun across the country, making airport hanger speeches where the leaders do everything they can do to ensure they are in the public consciousness on voting day.

The approaches of Keneally and O'Farrell as Saturday creeps closer and closer could not be more divergent.

Alexandra Smith wrote an excellent article that appears on the front page of the Herald today along with a big photo of Keneally, head thrown back laughing, along with some coal miners who look like they can't believe that they, of all people, are being campaigned to.

This is the thread that Smith picks up - Labor campaigning to coal miners is the Illawarra. These seats should be safe as houses for Labor, and given the swings required (Shellharbour on 26.8% and Keira on 22%) they still should be in the Labor column on Saturday night. That said, Heathcote on 8.8% and Kiama on 12% are ripe for Coalition picking.

Of course Labor running a campaign (in at least some shape or form) in every seat is a given - despite the fact that I live in O'Farrell's seat I've still been getting mailouts from him, and his branch members have still been active in the area handing out pamphlets at the station and doing what local members can be relied on to do.

But I haven't see O'Farrell - he has at risk seats to hit.

The Premier spending valuable hours in what are usually safe Labor seats in the Illawarra shows just how bad things have gotten. The combined effect of Federal Labor being a bit on the nose, NSW Labor being universally reviled and, no doubt, some bitterness about the David Campbell debacle, has Labor petrified that the seats may be in jeopardy.

O'Farrell, on the other hand, left yesterday for the Four Bus All State Tour (my name, not theirs). Four large Coalition busses, manned by O'Farrell and his shadow cabinet, will, between them, visit all 93 seats.

Of course, there's no way that O'Farrell has sufficient hubris to think he could win every seat. Rather, by making this tour, he sends messages. Every seat is in danger. The whole state wants change and we know it. Every seat is important and we want your vote.

I don't know his precise schedule, but assuming each bus goes to 26 electorates, that's still 9 electorates a day for each bus. When one considers the travelling time, as well as just how big some of the rural electorates are, it's a mammoth job.

No doubt the visits will be cursory at best. Of course, that's no issue - it's not the presence that is important, but rather the story in the local paper, or the big flashy event at the Westfield, or even just the "all 93 electorates" line that will be repeated as nauseum between now and Saturday.

Labor will lose on Saturday. It remains beyond doubt that it is a question of how much, not if. OF course neither party will admit that, but their plans for the last few days make it very clear that they know this.

The Premier is spending time in seats Labor hold as much as 20%. O'Farrell is visiting electorates in South-West Sydney - the home of Howard's battlers who kept the Federal Coalition in power for so long.

The question this raises is this - how long will these new Coalition voters stick around? A large victory should guarantee the Coalition at least 2 terms - but if they can turn dyed-in-the-wool Labor voters into Coalition voters (or even just into swinging voters) they could fundamentally alter the electoral map in Sydney.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Training for the Future

The issue of train fares is an odd one. I'm not certain of the timing, but I think it was late last year that Keneally announced that train fares would be frozen - no fare rises in 2011.  This is not an original tactic - multiple previous premiers have done so in the lead-up to elections.  It is painfully transparent, but apparently effective.

Labor have also detailed on their website that under their Fairness for Families Act (see my comment thereon here: http://bit.ly/ezmkWU) that all further fare rises would be tied to CPI increases.

O'Farrell announced today that the Coalition would be reducing fare for persons who buy monthly, quarterly or yearly tickets.  As someone who buys a yearly ticket once a year, this certainly has appeal to me - O'Farrell says that commuters such as me could save as much as $108 per year.  When you consider that a yearly MyMulti3 ticket costs $2280, that's a pretty good deal.

At its centre is the issue is the level of contribution that a train user should make towards their travel.  At present, the contribution from the government hovers around the 70% mark (see page 9 of this report: http://bit.ly/dS1f8k)

There can be little doubt that people using public transport is good for the community.  It reduces pressure on the roads, reduces the travel-related environmental impact, and means that less roads need to be built to handle the public's transportation needs.

More people on trains and busses is, I think most people would agree, good for everyone.

On one hand, on that basis it could be said that public transport should be free, or at least as cheap as it possible to ensure that as many people as possible use public transport.

There are two problems with that - first of all,  CityRail needs funds to operate, and in the absence of further funding from the state government, CityRail needs that income from fares.  Further, if fares are reduced there will be additional pressure placed on the train system that will result in further costs incurred.

Lower train fares are good, but they will inevitably result in further costs to the state.  The state budget is, it would appear, constantly pressed, and it doesn't appear that further expenditure is available.

The question I ask is - should it be?

Earlier on today I retweeted a tweet from Jo Tovey that linked to Labor's 1998 transport plan.  It listed shockingly large number of plans and projects that have, for the most part, not proceeded.

Public transport funding is, for reasons passing understanding, shockingly transient.  

The fact is that an cut to fares (or even a fare freeze) will inevitably lead to a larger number of people relying on public transport.  Whilst this is an undoubted good, it requires further expenditure.  Not only day to day expenditure, but ongoing capital investment.

The more people that use train lines, the sooner that further capital expenditure will be required. 

It appears, from my vantage-point, that this cash is simply not available, or at least it is horribly difficult to come by.

It's a sad state of affairs.  Sydney (and, for that matter, NSW) needs further expenditure on public transport, both capital and recurring.  But expenditure begats further expenditure - and the blow-outs in other areas of state expenditure make this all a very difficult balancing exercise.

Add the fact that it is a devastatingly sensitive political issue, and you have a situation where an area of public policy that is incredibly important to the NSW society is also a hot-button political issue,  And we all know what kind of public policy this inevitably leads to.

The result?  Both parties engaging in the illusion of action.  O'Farrell has committed to a number of capital projects, which is good.  Time will tell whether he is a promiser or a doer.

But public transport needs to be a public expenditure priority.  For the last 16 years it has been the first item to get cut as soon as pressures build on the budget, as they inevitably do.  If the further of NSW is to be protected, we need a government that is not afraid to invest in public transport.  Otherwise we risk become one groaning, smog-choked metropolis that is hopelessly reliant on cars for transport. And surely that is a future nobody wants.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Good One-Liner

Campaign slogans are an odd science. 

The 2010 Federal Election was a case in point. The Coalition went for the infamous "End the waste, repay the debt, stop the new taxes and stop the boats".  Whilst it was ruthlessly negative and devoid of any real content, people seemed pretty clear on where the Coalition stood.

Labor went for "Moving Forward" which was cryptic and ineffective. The slogan was the eternal proof that something that has been focus grouped to death and then repeated ad nauseum is going to grate within about 15 minutes, and that was exactly what occurred.

NSW elections have been no different.  In 2007, the Coalition went for the impossibly bland "Let's Fix NSW".  Labor's slogan was the endlessly derided "More to do, but we're heading in the right direction".

"Let's Fix NSW" seemed to be a pretty good summation of the Coalition campaign, and is a positive message that reminds the voter about the inadequacy of the opposition, but it's hard to imagine it drumming up any sort of emotional response.

The Labor slogan was, if memory serves, almost instantly mocked for its clumsiness and the fact that to any neutral observer it was flagrantly untrue.  It's impossible to know for sure unless you were in the room, but I wonder whether someone cobbled together 30 different slogans on this theme, sent them out to be tested, and this one came back as having the strongest positive reaction.

Having said that, history tells us that Labor won that election easily, so perhaps I'm being unkind.  Of course, I think most people would attribute that win more to the extremely effective attack ads on Debnam's business history rather than people favouring Labor.

Labor's election launch today had as its centrepiece their slogan "Fairness for Families", a slogan as bland as it is inscrutable.

At the Federal Level, the concept of "fairness for families" usually takes the form of middle-class welfare - a world where a family of three can earn an enormous sum of money before the amount they pay in tax exceeds the benefits they receive.

At the state level, it is a little difficult to relate such a slogan to concrete policies.  The Labor website says this: "If re-elected, I will introduce a new law – the Fairness for Families Act. This new law will cap increases in public transport fares and many taxes, fees and charges to the rate of inflation.  We will also provide a new $250 Energy Rebate to all households earning up to $150,000 – taking the sting out of rising energy prices.  We will also pass a new law to keep Sydney Water, Hunter Water and State Water in public hands."

Unsurprisingly, this has nothing to do with families at all - it's a cost-of-living policy.  But I suppose "We'll ease the cost of living" didn't test well.

On a sidetone, and as a lawyer who has to work with legislation every day, "Fairness for Families" Act is a ridiculous name for an Act - the fact that it fails to describe the contents of the act can actually make it incredibly difficult when you think "I know there is legislation on this issue, but I'm buggered if I can remember what act it was in."

Another great example of stupid names for a law is the GST legislation, which is still lumbered with the moniker "A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act".

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter a bit that the slogan has little to do with the actual policies - my tip is that the people influenced by simplistic slogans are not the kind of people to have any detailed knowledge of the policies of a party.  

The Liberal Policy for this election is "Make NSW Number 1 Again".  Of course we aren't told who we are to be ranked against, on what criteria or indeed why it matters that we are number one, but again, those questions aren't really the point.

It's simple, it's a positive message, it has a good dose of parochialism.  All the boxes.

It's also easy to use well visually - have a look at the first page of the Liberal's "Action plan": http://bit.ly/h9gjVh

It's easy to deride overly-tested slogans.  They are usually plucked from a focus group, and are so light on detail. But as I have said above, the slogans are only going to have an impact with people who are light on detail anyway, so it's probably fairly canny politics.

If a voter is only going to vote based upon the slogan they have heard on TV, then there's probably some sense in picking the slogan based only on how they test.

It's another great example of the multiple layers that every campaign must possess to have any effect at all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Swings and Roundabouts

If I got to ask one question to the leaders of our major parties, and I knew they would have to answer truthfully, the question I would ask is "What do you really think about swinging voters?"

I think the answers would be outstanding.

The thing is, most swinging voters are not, for the most part, discerning, skeptical folks.  Typically, they are disengaged from the political process.

LIke it or not, a major party who attracts the majority of these voters is probably going to triumph.

That said, the major problem with the poitical parties having to tailor their appeal to the swinging voter is this: given their level of disengagement with the process, often fundamental misunderstandings exist, rendering the process almost farcical.

O'Farrell's opposition to the Carbon Tax is a great example.  The tax has nothing to do with NSW government (directly) - on my understanding, no deal need be struck with the states.  Of'Farrell has peldged to fight the tax, but has not clarified on what basis he expects Gillard to care about what he thinks.

That's an example of a party using (and abusing) the ignorance of many swinging voters.  The problem for a party is when (what is perceived to be) poor governance from another level of politics "poisons" the electorate against you.

A great example of that was all the talk before the 2010 Federal Election about the reviled Labor governments in NSW and Queensland and their effect on the Federal Labor vote.

Of course it is all but impossible to measure the effect - but it seems likely that if the Labor brand was stronger in NSW and Queensland generally then Gillard would not have needed the support of the independants, and Federal Parliament would be a very different place at the moment.

Which all brings me to today's Sydney Morning Herald.

For a few weeks now the Herald has published a photo and quotes from the staff and the clientelle of a hairdresser somewhere in Sydney.  I suppose the series has been interesting, but really all it is is a reworking of the "man on the street" interview.

I was struck by the comment from one of the ladies.   She is 87, and voting Liberal, and said "I'm disgusted with Labor, the way they are throwing money around.  They came around offering me new pink batts... They're giving too much money away without actually doing anything."

Now, perhaps I'm being a little unkind here. Perhaps this voter actually has a nuanced view of the connection between Federal and State Labor, and is displaying an advanced analysis of the situation.

More likely, however, is that she completely misunderstands the roles of State and Federal Labor, and doesn't see that whilst there are many, many reasons to be angry at NSW Labor, none of them have anything to do with pink batts.

The real shock, for me at least, is that as far as this voter goes, Federal Labor has poisoned her against state Labor!  As if NSW Labor needed another obstacle - it must be enough to make a Labor staffer weep.

It's tough, I think, for a party to know what to do with this kind of voter, who I fancy is displaying a fairly common level of understanding of politics.

A careful, detailed reasoned argument managed over multiple news cycles is unlikely to have any effect.  Disengaged voters get their politics from television ads during reruns of Two and a Half Men, talk-back radio and gossip over a cup of tea.

This is why we get simplistic slogans, ads that cater to the lowest common denominator - because it is, like it or not, usually these swinging voters that are easiest to shift.

These people decide elections.  Parties are welsome to deride them, to despise them, and to despair of their disengagement.  But if you fail to respect their power, you won't get anywhere in politics.  These voters hold our state's futures in their hands.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pushing the envelope

Push polling is a nasty, nasty business.

Wikipedia defines push polling as "political campaign technique in which an individual or organisation attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll." Most commonly, it relies on either an existing rumour or a potential rumour that the opposition thinks may have legs.

These polls are usually phrased along the lines of "Would you be more or less likely to vote for candidate X if you knew that [miscellaneous allegation of questionable veracity]"

Push polls seem to have more of a history in the United States, where complaints about push polls are an almost constant feature of any election campaign.

In the 2008 US Presidential election, both sides of politics flung accusations of push polling. Voters were allegedly asked what they would think if Obama had donated money to the PLO. McCain may still have been smarting from a poll that George W Bush was alleged to have run during the primaries in 2000 that asked if the voter would be less likely to vote for McCain if they knew that he had "fathered an illegitimate black child?"

That last push-poll was especially insidious as McCain has in fact adopted a Bangladeshi girl - the pollster clearly realised that the most damaging false rumour usually has just enough truth to it to make it irresistibly believable.

There have been intermittent claims of push polling in Australia, apparently dating back to a Northern Territory election in 1994 (details here: http://bit.ly/goyyWz).

This present NSW election has, sadly, been no exception.

The initial complaints were made in mid-February in the seat of Blacktown, where John Robertson is attempting to complete a move to the lower house, presumably to then make a push for the leadership after Keneally resigns or is deposed. The seat is held by a margin of 22.5 percent, but in this Brave New World no seat is safe.

The Daily Telegraph alleges that voters in that seat were asked "how voters would feel about two Liberal cabinet ministers being "anti-teachers", how they would feel about the Liberals cutting 25,000 public sector jobs and about Liberals outsourcing call centre services to India."

These are not Coalition policies - the poll is not actually designed to provide any useful polling data. The responses don't even need to be recorded. The only purpose is to spread gossip and even slander about the other side.

Today there were complaints from the Greens that Labor have been pushing polling in the inner-west seat of Marrickville (held by about 7.5%), where Green candidate and Mayor Fiona Byrne is tipped to defeat Carmel Tebbutt.

The poll asked "Did you know Fiona Byrne led a boycott against Israel on council recently?"

Now, for what it's worth, I think the council "boycotting" israeli products as a result of the Israeli "treatment of Palestinians" is utterly ridiculous, and an atrocious waste of limited council resources (86 hours of staff time spent as of as of 15 February 2011: http://bit.ly/hqHpDk pages 134 to 136). But of course, that's not the point.

The allegation in the poll is not even true - the Mayor did support the boycott but in no way "led it".

The poll is a vicious attempt to smear the name of the candidate. I couldn't find any denials from Labor in relation to the Blacktown poll, but Tebbutt denied that the Marrickville polls came from Labor.

It's difficult to imagine who else could possibly stand to gain from the polls. Perhaps the poll is being paid for by a Labor supporter with a "wink wink nudge nudge" approval from Labor staff. Denials notwithstanding, I think it's safe to assume that Labor persons are, one way or another, involved.

Politics is often ruled by innuendo and rumour. In the US, Obama is to this day constantly dogged by the utterly unfounded and ridiculous claims that he was not born in the States and is therefore ineligible to lead the country (see http://bit.ly/jP76Q). Some resourceful soul has even dug out the initial birth notice published in the Honolulu Advertiser - but this has not been enough to quell the ridiculously persistent rumours.

You might say that a push polls is an incredibly expensive way to win an election, one call at a time. But that's not quite true,

First of all, it targets voters in the seats you are most concerned about. Second of all, it lets you say things that you could never say on television, where people could test out your accusation. Thirdly, it's in an allegedly independent poll, so is therefore unlikely to be questioned by the voter.

Finally, the average NSW state district has about 40 000 votes cast. A poll that calls 1000 people, who tells an average of 3 other voters, has suddenly planted a nasty, insidious rumour with a full 10% of voters.

Rumours change elections - and there can be little doubt that some Labor persons are resorting to what can only be described as dirty tricks to hang onto what should really be safe seats.

Politics is a nasty, nasty business.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Polls Apart

There was a very interesting set of polling numbers released on the weekend, faithfully leaked to the Twitterverse by @ghostwhovotes.  They can be seen here: http://bit.ly/gYdVDy

At first glance, the numbers seem to be a little encouraging for Labor.  Primary vote has risen from 23% in Jan-Feb to 26% in Mar 2010 (down from 39% at the last election).

Think about that, just for a second.  Even on these improved numbers, one out of every three people who voted Labor in 2007 will not be doing so this time round.

The strange thing is that the Coalition has picked up 4% as well, moving from 46% to 50%, up from 37% in 2007.

That's an impressive number too - a full half of the population marking Liberal or National.

So, where have these numbers come from? It's from the Green column - down from 17% in Jan-Feb to 11% in Mar 2010 (down from 9% in 2007).

Is that actually possible?  Could it be the case that one out of three Greens voters have jumped ship in the last month?  I doubt it.

Some people on Twitter theorised that the fall was, at least in part, due to the announcement of the Carbon Tax.  Personally, I don't think so.

To have moved one's vote because of the Carbon Tax, this hypothetical Green voter needs to so fundamentally misunderstand that Federal/State divide that he/she thinks that their state vote matters on this issue, but have a nuanced enough understanding of the present state of Federal politics that he/she can see the Green fingers all over this move.

Such a voter may exist, but surely not more than one or two of them?

It is possible that this is some sort of Green backlash, but I would have thought that most people who already feel that strongly about the issue are already firmly lodged in the Coalition column.

Far more likely, in my view, is that this result is just statistical noise - a false positive, if you will.

Let's look at the small print.  Obviously only people who are home at the right time of day, interested in being part of a poll, and additionally able to speak English would be polled.  Newspoll no doubt balance for all these things, and besides, the same restrictions applied to the previous poll.

The important point, however, is that only 1000 voters were surveyed in this poll.  1000!  That's such a minute quantity of the NSW population that we're immediately taking a risk extrapolating.

Now, no poll can be truly random.  That goes without saying.   But it's still very easy to forget that polling is an inherently inexact science.

Even if the poll was 100% random, there will still be variation.  Indeed, this poll (like all good polls) tells us that the "maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1".  Stretching back to the small amount of statistics I studied at uni, this tells us that there is a 95% chance that the "true" result is no more than 3.1% more and no less than 3.1% less than the stated figure.

Now, the Green vote plummeted 6%, so we're outside that standard deviation - but notwithstanding that, 5% of results will still fall outside that range.

At the end of the day. there may well have been a fall in the Green vote, and it may be a significant one.  But I severely doubt that it could possibly be 6%. I'd be very surprised if there was not an "inexplicable" rise in the Green vote in the next poll back towards the kind of figures we saw in Jan-Feb.

Polls are important.  They let us and politicians know what is going on, and when it is time to punt the old premier and rotate round again. If the Greens are smart, I'm sure they'll be calm about this result.  As the cliche goes, there is only one poll that counts.  

As a final note, according to these numbers, 11% of people think that Labor will win, including 4% of Coalition voters! I guess there are some questions no poll can satisfactorily answer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Courting Public Opinion

Labor have been bandying about a line recently that the Coalition will close the local courts that serve our community.  Given I have a lot to do with the local court in my day job this has obviously attracted my attention, and is a perfect example of the vacuous campaigning that we, as voters, let parties get away with every election.

This is how Labor justify the line.  The Coalition have a policy headed "Complete audit of the NSW Government's Financial Position" (available here: http://bit.ly/hhgGZK).  In short, what the policy explains is that "over the last 10 years expenses have grown by 6.6%" so the Coalition government will "conduct a complete audit of the NSW government's financial position".

Now, for what it's worth, that policy sounds more like the Coalition getting ready to start giving reasons why promises can't be afforded when the ghastly true state of the budget is revealed, but we'll leave that aside for the moment.

What Labor have done with this policy is to construe it as a willingness to cut the number of local courts in NSW.  Nowhere in the Coalition policy are the courts mentioned, and there is absolutely no suggestion from anyone that the local courts are in need of a trim.

Nevertheless, on Friday Attorney General John Hatzistergos was at Windsor Local Court demanding that O'Farrell quarantine community-based local courts (whatever that means) from the audit. The news of the speech was breathlessly reported on the Labor website: http://bit.ly/gYDti8.

It seems likely that there are two reasons that the local court system was chosen to be the alleged target.  First of all, it allows Labor to trot out the line that the last Coalition government "closed 73 local courts, including 39 in just one day."

Further, no doubt some focus group or phone poll taken in Western Sydney suggested that this would be a good idea.

It is, between you and me, politics at it's absolute worst. Take a perfectly sensible and reasonable policy from the other side, misrepresent the policy to a point where it is wholly unrecognisable, and then desperately fling it at voters to try and get them scared about the other side.

The worst thing is that the Coalition can't engage on the issue because if they do, not only will it inflame the issue and make the accusation seem credible, but further any promise to actually quarantine the courts from the audit would result in "Humiliating Backdown from O'Farrell on Planned Court Closures" or something equally specious.

The Coalition hasn't it seemed, done much of this kind of campaigning this election.  That's not to suggest that they have a higher moral standing - the Federal Coalition's relentless campaign against the carbon tax is a case in point.  It's just that, in my opinion, the Coalition is not going to win any more voters off Labor - their job between now and next saturday is simply to make sure that the inevitable drift back to Labor over the course of the campaign is kept to an absolute minimum.

They can do so by being calm, sensible, and reasonable - a task they are accomplishing quite well in the face of the rising hysteria from Labor, best optimised in the disgraceful speech Keneally gave on Friday.  The text doesn't need any commentary, so I'm going to copy and paste it in below:

''Take care of your neighbours because there will be fewer police to do that for you,''
''Take care of the old, the sick and the vulnerable because when the health budget gets cut, there will be fewer nurses and there will be fewer community care workers.
''And, as grim as it is to say this: be sure to follow up on the child who has gone quiet, who is out of character, who is withdrawn, because you can no longer assume that that child is protected. Please help any family with a disability, because what is now, today, a public priority will once again become a private problem.
''And be sure to read to your children as a good public education becomes a memory as our teachers join nurses on the unemployment queue.''

A despicable low in O'Farrell's words.  I'd say he's right.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Please Explain

Last blogpost (http://bit.ly/eG0MCV) I bemoaned the general lack of interest in this election, and conceded that it was a bit of an election for the "purists" - those of us who enjoy the process with or without drama.

Two stories arose in the last 48 hours to inject some excitement into proceeds, and perhaps a little interest from the viewers.

The first was the unexpected appearance of Pauline Hanson, who announced she would be seeking an upper-house seat.  Apparently she is running on "cost of living issues".

There is no doubt she will get her fair share of attention (as she always done).  She got a dud draw in the ballot (getting towards but not quite at the right edge - on such minutia careers are made and lost) and she announced she'd be heading to regional areas to drum up support.

The difficulty for her is working out whose voters she is going to nick.  Labor's voters are, as I have discussed (http://bit.ly/fsBk0Q) just the rusted on voters.  They won't move.

The people planning on voting for smaller parties usually have a very good reason for doing so, so won't be going anywhere.

The Liberal voters fall in multiple categories: rusted on Liberal voters, disaffected Labor voters wanting to "give the other lot a chance", and traditional swinging voters who, overwhelmingly it seems, are backing the Coalition.

It is difficult to see who of these Hanson could grab.  Perhaps a few of the disaffected Labor voters, but it is hard to see someone traditionally voting for Labor casting a ballot, in any circumstances, for Hanson.

The only real source of voters I can see is those people who feel no affiliation for either party - of those, some people will be sympathetic to her "agenda" (meaning her previously stated views) and will move across. But, to my mind, that's about it.

I personally doubt she will get much cut-through on her "cost of living issues" - when people see her name on the ballot paper all they will think is "We are being overrun by Asians" - at least, except for those of us who think of Pauline PantsDown (http://bit.ly/ibxQ5O).

Hanson's detractors are out of luck too - there is no opportunity for her to make money from the election, because the funding available if one gets sufficient votes can only cover costs - so hopefully we'll be spared allegations that she's only in the election to try and "steal" money from the public purse.

It promises to be an amusing sideshow, and will give many people a chance to fill in 311 first.  Yes, that's right, 311 candidates.  I'll be bringing my own pen.  Or maybe a sharpener.

The most amazing about that number is the word "only" appears in front of it in many reports.  

The other incident was at the drawing of the ballot for the Upper House.  

Apparently a man attended in a bathrobe and a bowtie.  After the drawing, he "revealed" that the only other thing he was wearing was a g-string.

Apparently he is from the nudist party, and with a bit of luck will be mentioned in numerous "novelty" stories over the next 24 hours.

Such is life as a minor party - attention is votes.  Well, attention, or a funny name.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interest Rates

I think it is more than a little amazing how chronically disinterested in this election people are.

Admittedly, my interest in politics is relatively new.  Four years ago my political interest was in its infancy, and I can't profess that I had a huge interest in the election where Debnam was humiliated by Iemma. That said, I do remember chuckling most heartily at "More to do, but we're heading in the right direction."

My interest in politics was really ignited by observing JWH being unceremoniously dumped not only out of the lodge but also out of Bennelong.  I almost went into meltdown with interest in the 2010 Federal Election and the ensuing drama.

I approached this 2011 NSW election more than a little excited.  I was looking forward to reading about the parties brawling through the media, stories leaking, scandal, fusses over nothing, plus of course excitement and niggle on #NSWvotes.  And maybe someone like Mark Latham to really stir things up.

Instead, the whole thing appears to be a bit of a squib.  Frankly, no one seems very interested.

No one appears to be blogging very enthusiastically (except for those people who only blog to drum up support/rail against an ideology/piss people off).  #NSWvotes is more than a little dull - the usual trolls doing what trolls do, people retweeting stuff journos have tweeted, and people asking Barry O'Farrell questions (many of which, to his credit, he or his staff answer).

The media seems to be, at best, disinterested.  Reporting what is being said, but without any real enthusiasm or excitement.  Anthony Green has, as usual, provided an absolute deluge of analysis and statistical information, but I often wonder if I'm the only one reading it.

Why is this?  Could it be the fact that the coalition are now almost unbackable favourites to triumph ($1.02 on Centrebet, Labor $13.00)?  I'm sure that's part of it.

Much like a sporting event, most people like it to at least be competitive.  Labor have been sunk for so long that their loss seems not only inevitable - it seems like it has already happened, and all we're waiting for is the formality of an actual vote.

It may well be that this election is the kind of election that only the "purist" enjoys - the process itself has to entertain, because the "tension" over the result certainly won't.

On one level, I suppose this is a great shame for O'Farrell - as opposed to remembered as hero (in the same way that Rudd would be if people didn't think him an unbearable twat) it seems he will (at least for the moment) be the man who was in the right place at the right time to knock off a long expired Labor government.

He has copped a lot of flack for running a "small target" campaign, but one can't fault its effectiveness.  I wrote previously (at ) about the way that all he needs to do is not give people a reason not to vote for him, and most people who aren't firmly part of the Labor or Green base would back the Coalition.  Judging by the polls that strategy seems to be working very well.  

Labor will no doubt say that it's not fair that a man who is "hiding" things (their words) could be elected, but all he's doing is (very effectively) taking advantage of Labor's weakness.  And Labor has no one to blame for that but themselves.

Anyway.  I'll be watching the ABC with considerable interest next saturday.  I'll have all the Labor seats on a board and will closely cross them off as Labor are slaughtered.  And if anyone wants to play with me, I'll pick a time for when Anthony Green calls it for the Coalition.  I just hope I'll have someone to play with.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Higher Office

There has been a predictable flurry of chatter in the last few days about candidates not staying on after the election.

I wrote previously about the conspiracy theories regarding a Eric Roozendaal departure once he qualifies for his pension (here: http://bit.ly/f5c1lF). Many people are (predictably enough) are wondering how many Labor politicians will be moving on post election.

Presumably there will be less than one would normally expect when a party loses after 16 years in office, for two reasons.  First of all, the loss is inevitable, and it been that way for a long time.  No one from Labor could (plausibly) claim to be heading into this election still expecting to be in government - so there is little reason to expect the kind of exodus we say after Howard was punted in 2007 (Downer, Costello, McGauren and Vaile all jumped ship, Howard having famously lost his own seat).

Additionally, Keneally has been calling very publicly for what she has called "generational change" for some time.  Whether this is about renewing the party and trying to make sure they have a shot in 4 years, or rather just about trying to make the party look new and invigorated for this election is anyone's guess. 

This all means that most people who don't intend sticking out the 4 years have probably already jumped (or been pushed).  

During the Channel 10 debate last week, both leaders were asked questions about whether they will remain as leader after the election, which struck me as a particularly silly question. I've scoured the internet for a transcript but have been unable to find one, which seems typical of what seems to me to be the media's apathy to this election as a whole.

O'Farrell gave a rather cryptic answer that I didn't really follow about it being up to the party room and a vote having to be taken, when surely a simple "Yes" would have sufficed.

The question was difficult for Keneally because she knows that when Labor lose there will be people suggesting that she should no longer be leader of the party, despite the fact that no one really has much bad stuff to say about her leadership.  It may well not be up to her if she stays or not.

What she did guarantee is that she would be serving out her 4 year term as member for Heffron, she being one of the few Labor members all but guaranteed to retain her seat.

Today she is apparently refusing to comment on whether she will stay as leader if Labor are not returned (http://bit.ly/hi72Uq SMH online).  She was then asked whether she was considering a Federal career, to which she replied that she was not.

If she did go chasing Federal glory, she wouldn't be the first.  The most obvious example would be Rob Oakeshott, who quit NSW politics to run successfully for Mark Vaile's old seat in September 2008.  A number of current House of Representative members also cut their teeth in State politics.

There's also the question of whether the Labor leader who was at the helm of what may very well be the biggest shellacking ever handed out by a state in living memory would ever have a political pulse afterwards.

I recall discussion some years ago, back when the Liberals were at their lowest in NSW and Howard still seemed unassailable, that the party was going to struggle to get out of the doldrums in NSW because all the "talent" in NSW as heading for the Federal arena where there were opportunities to govern.

How times change.

That aside, it still seems that many people see Federal politics as the pinnacle for politicians.  I don't ever plan to run for anything, but if I did, and I was given the option of a job that would keep me in Sydney (for the most part) or job that would require me to spend much of my year in Canberra, I reckon it would take me at least 2 seconds to decide to stay in NSW.

I've also heard it said that it is State Governments that really get things done, and provide the services that people need - police, hospitals, roads, public transport, which surely must hold some appeal.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it seems a shame that people often regard state politics as a "stepping stone" or an audition for greater things.  It remains to be seen how many of the Coalition's members take the same approach in the years to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Flying High

Tonight I am not interested in writing about Keneally's "gaffe" that the Coalition has saturated the airwaves with. If you haven't heard about it, I wouldn't bother.  It's all about whether Keneally's view on the compensation to be offered under Gillard's Carbon Tax plan is different to Gillard's view.  The fact that Keneally may be a little too busy being slaughtered in her state election to worry about Federal issues appears to not matter very much.

Rather, I'm very interested in Keneally's announcement today about slashing the fees for the Airport link.  Well, that's not quite what she did, but I'll come to that later.

First, some background.  For those of you not aware, the price of a ticket to disembark at one of the stations on the Sydney airport link (Green Square, Mascot, Domestic and International) have always been, in my view, extortionate.  By way of example, a ticket from Town Hall station to the International terminal costs $15.80.  If there are two of you, a cab is cheaper.

This is compared to a ticket from Town Hall to Bondi Junction that costs $3.20

In fairness, travel to the airport from other parts of Sydney becomes economical compared to a cab as the fare doesn't increase much as you get further away, but I think it is fair to say people are generally put off using the line because of the price.

The relevant detail is that there are two other stations on the same airport link (see http://bit.ly/i9dGnY for a map, if you like) that, despite not being in any way part of the airport, attract the same surcharge.  Until now.

Keneally announced today that, from Monday, the government would be "subsidising" the fares to the two non-airport stations, effectively bringing the price of tickets to that station in line with the rest of the CityRail Network.

A number of reports today have commented on the fact that these two stations lie within Keneally's electorate of Heffron.  The Opposition Transport Spokesman Gladys Berejiklian called the move "cynical pork-barrelling" (SMH), although I can't see why it would be necessary - Keneally holds the seat by 23.7%, and no matter how awful things go for Labor on 26 March I think we can mark this one into the Labor column.

Labor of course tried to sell the move as being the chance to correct a "legacy" from the previous Liberal government, although why it took 12 years to correct this was conveniently not explained. Keneally even went so far as to explain that at the time the airport link was signed off, O'Farrell was chief of staff to the Liberal transport minister, which seemed a silly point to make as it only emphasised just how long it's been since the Coalition were in power.

In truth, my theory on the announcement was simply that it was a way to get people thinking positive thoughts about Labor and transport.  One of the concerns we constantly see ranked highly by voters is transport - by announcing this new subsidy, the government has had pretty solid coverage of them "doing something" to improve the transport system.

According to the SMH story, this move will cost $4 million per year, just 10% of what it would have cost to include the Domestic and International Terminals in the subsidy.  Odds are, many people watching the story won't notice the distinction between the two pairs of stations and will simply understand that the government has done something to decrease the fares on the airport link.

The Coalition can't say anything much because they don't want to be on the other side of a CityRail Fare Reduction Story, so the move is really a certain win for the government.  And I suspect it would have gotten a lot of airplay if not for the distraction of Keneally's non-gaffe.  Not doubt she'll be livid that this savvy bit of politicking has been drowned out by the carbon tax issue, which was always going to get traction because of the present controversy about the carbon tax in the Federal arena.

It remains to be seen how many more state issues are drowned out by the Carbon Tax, and which side of NSW politics will profit the most from it.